The question of how a state committed to Communism became the world’s biggest trading nation in markets dominated largely by capitalist countries, controlling industries and setting prices, has long been puzzling. Author Jason M Kelly, in Market Maoists, provides a sober, detailed account of the way modern China came to see that global trade could be a way to “fortify socialism … rather than degrade it.”
Among the most colorful and characteristic participants in the caravan trade between India and Central Asia were the Afghan horse dealers, pictured here in the Fraser Album at the V&A. They brought horses from Bukhara across the Hindu Kush to livestock fairs in the Punjab. Their caravans carried Indian cloths for the return trip. Jagjeet Lally’s India and the Silk Roads describes the sophistication and persistence of this trade, which has frequently been underestimated by both historians of India and of the early modern commerce.
Once a relatively obscure topic, the Manila Galleon—in essence a commercial shipping line that connected Asia to the Americas from the 16th to early 19th centuries and arguably the key building block in the development of what we have since recognized as “globalization”—is now the subject of an increasing number of studies. In the latest, Portuguese Merchants in the Manila Galleon System, 1565-1600, former Mexican diplomat Cuauhtémoc Villamar looks at the involvement of Portuguese merchants—and by extension Macau—in the Galleon’s first few decades.
Some books are next to impossible to review. Silk Roads is one: encyclopedic in scope and structure, made up of several dozen short essays by almost as many different authors, each lavishly illustrated with indescribable photos of objects and places.
Since the Chinese President Xi Jinping first proposed to revive the Silk Road in 2013, the term have become almost ubiquitous, whether used in a celebratory or derogative way. The topics range from trade agreements, financial loans, military bases, soft-power expansion, and cultural exchanges in the age of globalization.
Mention of the British East India Company brings to mind visions of imperialism, exploitation and oppression of colonial peoples in Asia, and India as the “jewel in the British crown”. The Company was all that and more.